Fan column: Enjoy these moments - Stevenage fans delight at return of excitement and hope

Michael Bostwick's return to Stevenage has helped galvanise the fanbase says Will Pickworth.

Michael Bostwick's return to Stevenage has helped galvanise the fanbase says Will Pickworth. - Credit: DAVID LOVEDAY/TGS PHOTO

Take yourself back for a minute to 2017 and March 18 in particular.

A Matt Godden-inspired Stevenage have just dispatched promotion favourites Portsmouth 3-0. Boro are on the march and the Lamex is bouncing.

Nine wins in 11 games under the up-and-coming Darren Sarll has rocketed the club up to fourth place, perfectly poised for a strong promotion push

Yet, after a disastrous six points from the final eight games of the season, Boro plummeted down to 10th place and that post-Pompey optimism was abated.

Fast forward to January 2022 and four and a half abject seasons later, bar a brief Ilias Chair-enthused dart at the play offs in 2018-19, Stevenage were staring at relegation.

With five different managers since that glorious spring afternoon, Boro had an alarming record of 102 points in 105 league games since the start of the 2019-20 season, ahead of the January 8 clash with Walsall.

Things were bleak.

Most Read

However, eleven points from five matches, with an outstanding 12 goals scored, has seen optimism return in abundance on the terraces. Under the experienced Paul Tisdale, the transformation throughout January, the club’s most successful January points-wise since becoming an EFL club, has been remarkable, with players and fans re-energised.

The end of that Portsmouth game now feels like a real sliding doors moment and the atmosphere that day has been rarely replicated in the period since.

But the spirit generated during parts of, and at the end of the Crawley and Harrogate Town home victories, has evoked memories of the East Terrace during the early 2010s, the modern-day glory years for Stevenage fans.

Nonetheless, one month of fixtures is an extremely small sample size, and perhaps Boro fans are getting carried away. After all, the revitalised Boro side we saw during the second half of last season under Alex Revell proved just to be a flash-in-the-pan when trying to replicate that form this campaign.

We have also seen Boro lose to Tranmere and scrape a 2-2 draw with Crawley this past week.  

However, the differences in performances could not have been more marked. The first month under Tisdale did little to suggest the former Exeter City, MK Dons and Bristol Rovers manager was the man to turn around Boro’s season, but since settling on his preferred 4-3-3 formation, there has been a clear improvement.

The use of width, the lack of which was long lamented by a fanbase frustrated by Revell’s narrow style, has been a revelation while not neglecting midfield control.

The players, struggling so badly before Christmas, now look an altogether dissimilar proposition and it is hard to find one who has not picked up form as confidence continues to grow.

The variation in Jake Taylor’s performance since Tisdale pushed his former Exeter captain into a more advanced role has been revolutionary, while Luke Norris is playing the finest football of his time at Stevenage by far and is brimming with confidence as he looks set for the best goal-scoring season of his career to date.

Terence Vancooten has showed his class in recent weeks, shining in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role, one that has been so crucial to the team’s newfound control.

Jake Reeves and Chris Lines, a proverbial Rolls Royce, although both now injured, along with new addition Zain Westbrooke have added creativity that has seen 14 goals in seven games after just 16 in the previous 23.

What makes this even more remarkable is the continued absence of Elliot List, often found ploughing a lone crusade in the first half of the campaign, and his injury, which once frightened Boro fans, has seldom been noticed on the pitch.

His return will add further strings to Boro’s burgeoning bow under Tisdale who deserves enormous credit.

While his appointment was not the most eye-catching, particularly following a mixed spell at MK Dons and an unpopular period at Bristol Rovers, it is the first time Stevenage have had an experienced Football League manager in the dugout.

His background is distinct from previous inexperienced appointments by chairman Phil Wallace with over 700 Football League games behind him.

His pragmatic approach and gradual evolution of the playing style is benefitting the Boro players and his calm, composed but authoritative manner has impressed.

He deserves enormous credit for not only improved results, but also making it enjoyable to watch Stevenage again, as excitement at attending games returns to fans starved of success and enjoyment.

Tisdale’s work in the transfer market must be recognised too with his seven signings thus far, making a significant impact. While Bailey Clements and Laurie Walker have scarcely been seen on the pitch yet, they no doubt add strength in key areas of the squad. The additions of Luke O’Neil, Zain Westbrooke, Ed Upson, Christy Pym and Michael Bostwick have all added experience and quality, while also providing a lift and depth to the squad, with Boro’s bench full of genuine options.

The signing of Bostwick, despite his lack of minutes so far, was a masterstroke. Among a fanbase longing for positivity, the return of a club icon energized players’, staff and fans, instantly creating camaraderie amongst all three. Despite just 40 minutes before succumbing to injury against Walsall, his impact was noticeable and set the tone as a symbol of this new, and hopefully bright era for Stevenage under Tisdale.

Including the recent tough trips to Tranmere and Crawley, a testing month awaits for this Stevenage side under Tisdale and may perhaps bring Boro fans crashing back down to earth.

Yet, following a frankly miserable few years, and under a wily manager, Stevenage fans deserve to enjoy these moments of positivity and are for once, looking up the table, rather than down.